Why Do Product People Need to Focus on Impact?
As the VP of Product at ProductPlan, there’s nothing that I enjoy more than talking to customers. I enjoy identifying a significant problem that sounds impossible to solve and then bringing it to my engineering and design peers. The ensuing conversations energize us as we look at the pain point from different angles before ultimately taking the first impactful step.
However, there are parts of product management that I like substantially less. In particular, the feeling that “there’s never enough time” or “there are hundreds of things I could do better.” It can wear on me. Haven’t we all started our days with good intentions but then got home questioning if anything got done? I know we’re making progress, but I also believe that we’re not using the right measuring stick to determine the impact we’re making.
Prioritization comes into play when determining which new capabilities and enhancements should be added to your product. Talked about a bit less in the product space, is prioritization is equally vital for every other part of your job and career.
We all only have so many years on earth, weeks in a year, days in a month, and minutes in each day. So what we choose to do with them—along with what we choose not to do—determines whether we will be happy, successful, productive or frustrated, struggling, and miserable.
Too many frameworks, too little direction
But while there are many frameworks for prioritizing requirements (here are 37 of them), there’s a little less direction when it comes to the rest of our professional lives. Yet we’re constantly forced to make these judgment calls at every turn:
- Should I answer that email from a cranky customer or finish that user story the developers are bugging me about?
- Do I try to move into a leadership role at a stealth-mode startup? Or take an individual contributor gig at a giant social media company instead?
- Is it better to include that extra stakeholder in this meeting or limit the attendees, so it moves quickly?
We frequently face these problems without a rubric for knowing the right answer. So we guess and go with our gut, play it safe, or maybe take a risk—all the things we don’t do when developing our product strategies and roadmaps.
Having been at these crossroads thousands of times in my 15-year long product career, I knew there had to be a better way. How can product managers (PM) ensure that their basing minor moves and major decisions on the logic align with objectives that provide the biggest bang for your buck? That’s where IMPACT comes in.
What is IMPACT?
Acronyms are a great way to remember things, so I figured why not join the party. It also illustrates precisely how simple this framework is. There aren’t multiple steps or dependencies. Just six things to consider whenever you want to be sure your actions or decisions will be the most beneficial to what matters most. It’s really more of a mindset than a predefined set of instructions to follow.
And without further adieu, here’s what IMPACT means:
- I – Interesting: Does this address the things our customers really care about? Can we tell a story of how we’re creating positive change for them?
- M – Meaningful: Are we moving the business forward toward measurably reaching its goals? Are we providing real value to our users?
- P – People: Who is impacted by this? Who uses it, who sees the benefits, and who pays for it?
- A – Actionable: Are we coming up with ideas that can be implemented and realized? Do we have the resources, budget, and expertise to execute?
- C – Clear: Do we truly understand what we’re trying to do? Can it be concisely articulated so even a child could understand?
- T – Testable: Can you try things out before making a major commitment? Are there ways to experiment and measure success on an ongoing basis?
By asking ourselves if your decisions create IMPACT, you can better align your actions with your intentions. Of course, we all strive to be impactful. But at the moment, it’s not always clear without taking a brief pause to reflect and assess.
IMPACT in Action
I shaped the IMPACT approach with product management in mind—but it’s not limited to things that are only directly related to your products. It applies to nearly every facet of your professional life—and could probably come in handy with career matters as well.
Processes can be a contentious topic. Especially in today’s Agile-driven world of rapid iterations and competition accelerating the time-to-market deadlines for many companies. But far too often, processes turn into habits, going unevaluated once they become routine.
Using IMPACT, product leaders have a framework to continually assess (and reassess) the value of current and potential processes. If they’re not greasing the wheels of progress and actually speeding the delivery of value to customers, they may be ripe for review, modification, or elimination.
IMPACT creates a standard lens for all stakeholders—regardless of their day-to-day duties—to evaluate things. As a result, everyone can see how much a given initiative will help the organization meet its goals as it winds its way through the processes.
And IMPACT’s holistic approach can try and separate the noise around a particular item and instead take the long view. This makes it easier to rise above the crisis of the moment or a disgruntled user that keeps stealing the spotlight.
There is no shortage of prioritization frameworks—we’re spoiled for choice. But a framework is useless without the right rules and guiding principles in place.
Prioritization is all about ranking the possibilities to determine where resources should be expended. Of course, we can score them and rearrange sticky notes until the cows come home, but it’s the underlying criteria that frame those decisions that make it all work.
IMPACT is a fantastic filter to help with determining which initiatives are really worth it. It can help narrow down the rules you apply and the yardstick to measure up those potential new features, enhancements, and initiatives.
At a higher level, IMPACT can help you evaluate the prioritization frameworks themselves. Instead of being held hostage by the rules of one that isn’t the best fit, you can survey the landscape to determine which framework is best aligned with what matters most for your product at this juncture in its lifecycle.
If you’ve used IMPACT in the previous two areas, you’ve done most of the hard work determining which things should appear on your roadmap. But one area of roadmapping that IMPACT can add even more value is in storytelling.
The best roadmaps tell a story, using the themes, goals, and objectives laid out within it to create a compelling narrative. That story should be infused with IMPACT that makes it evident to everyone the direction of the product, why that’s where it needs to go, and how it’s going to get there.
When the narrative is grounded in IMPACT, the value the roadmapped work will add is clear. Moreover, its alignment with strategic objectives is apparent, so there should be minimal pushback from stakeholders who will now be less concerned with the minor dates and details because the grand vision is so darn attractive.
Bringing on new members of the product team is a major inflection point with serious ramifications. Unfortunately, product leaders don’t get that many opportunities to hire new staff. Our teams are smaller, and management is often reluctant to add headcount and expense in this area. Getting a hire “wrong” is a major lost opportunity and, in some cases, can harm the product’s success as well.
Unfortunately, there’s no perfect playbook for hiring product talent because the roles are so nuanced and complex. No equivalent of an engineering test or certification indicates they’re competent, and evaluating soft skills during the interview process can only go so far.
But applying the IMPACT lens to hiring can help you sift and sort through the candidates with an eye on who brings the biggest added value to the team. This can even begin when reviewing their resumes. Using IMPACT can help you determine how much they emphasize customer-centricity, whether they use collaborative verbs, and how they define success.
There’s no universal blueprint for product management careers, and success looks different for each person. Some want to amass power. Others are content with remaining an individual contributor. Or perhaps it’s working on cool technology or the size of their paycheck that drives them.
Product managers (PM) also don’t have the advantage of being a rare commodity highly sought after by headhunters. As a result, we essentially operate out of the spotlight and stay off their radar, limiting our visibility to potential employers.
As such, we must take intentional action to advance our careers, burnish our resumes, and build out our networks. We can’t take it for granted that promotions and raises will come our way because we get our work done.
But using IMPACT, we can assess our value to our current and future organizations. We can determine if we’re checking the boxes that really matter and make a difference or if there’s still room for improvement and growth.
Similarly, we can evaluate potential opportunities when we’re on the hunt for a new job with IMPACT as well. Again, using job descriptions and what we know about the company and product, IMPACT can help us understand if a potential new gig will be someplace that is solving the right problems and doing it in a collaborative, data-driven way.
Adjusting our perspectives and using a consistent rubric to look at the many aspects of our work as product managers is both important and healthy. It forces us to consider all the angles instead of running on routine.
Interesting, meaningful work that puts people at the center of our decisions. Actionable plans that are clear and testable bring those ideas to life. They add value to the company and our customers.
To learn more about IMPACT and how to put it into practice, download our free e-book today.